Blockbuster deal ends trying year for News-3


Sing, Bobby:

In every life we have some trouble, but when you worry you make it double. Don't worry. Be happy.

Send that Bobby McFerrin novelty number out to News-3, given that their 2009 headaches -- an embattled newsroom in gradual turnaround, vanishing anchors, a budget on a strict diet and Jay Leno lead-in ratings headed in a direction only desirable in golf and darts -- needed a crowning migraine.

Cue the Media Story of the Moment: Comcast, the nation's biggest-baddest-boldest cable operator, last week sealed a deal to purchase controlling interest (51 percent to GE's 49 percent) of NBC Universal, positioning them to swallow up the NBC network like Jonah sliding down the whale's gullet. That leaves the guppies -- i.e., network affiliates such as Channel 3 -- wondering whether there will still be a tiny pond to splash around in somewhere in the vast Comcast ocean of cable, telephone and Internet services.

Though regulatory approval of the titan's takeover probably is a year away, industry gossips are buzzing like a beehive over whether Comcast might turn a storied network -- now a last-place laggard -- into a cable channel, endangering affiliates that may wind up expendable.

Anxiety, anyone? "Yes," says GM Lisa Howfield. "I need to be told what it means for me because I don't have a sense of it yet. They tell us affiliates are still going to be important to them. It's in a wait-and-see mode until they make changes that would send out a red flag."

Even if the company retains broadcast operations and affiliates, another Comcast conundrum arises. "I have a relationship with Cox Cable and now my affiliation is owned by one of their competitors," Howfield points out. "What if Cox said, 'Hey, you're a Comcast channel, I'm not carrying you'? Comcast and Cox have gone to court over different channels. That would be really odd."

Despite nationwide dominance, Comcast has no Vegas presence, but that's no guarantee of peace in the cable kingdom. Cox could drop-kick a Comcast station off its channel lineup just on principle.

Cox Cable in Las Vegas referred queries to its Atlanta headquarters, where a spokesman said the company won't comment yet on any aspects of the Comcast deal. "We do a lot of things together and I hope this won't change anything," Howfield says.

Yet News-3 has upside indicators elsewhere.

Leno's Little Bighorn lead-in, while dragging its 11 p.m. news down in year-to-year ratings, didn't prevent News-3 from protecting its second-place finish. And after tacking on another half-hour of "Wake Up with the Wagners" and re-entering the 10 p.m. news arena on KTUD, News-3 re-expands the noon news to an hour in January, evicting infomercials that disrupted its daytime flow.

Small pluses, perhaps -- doodling around the margins. But bolder gambits are likely. As the year wraps on a Comcast question mark that'll haunt the station and sister affiliates for at least another year, Channel 3 walks out of 2009 undeniably battle-scarred, but into 2010 surprisingly battle-ready.

Sing, News-3: When you worry your face will frown and that will bring everybody down. Don't worry. Be happy.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

 

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